It’s not the screaming that jolts Sam awake, it’s the sudden silence.
The human mind is a funny thing—it’ll twist things up, make something into anything to suit what it thinks is real. So as Sam dreams of an empty old field marred by parallel tracks, what he sees is a train rushing by, whistle blowing loud and shaking the ground as it rockets past.
But what he hears is his brother screaming.
The sad thing is that somewhere he knows exactly what it is, some corner of his mind has become so accustomed to the sounds (pained groans and muffled whimpers and when it all becomes too much screaming, just screaming) that it no longer alerts him, no longer wakes him up, just lets it all flow seamlessly into his dreams in strange sights and sounds that don’t quite fit the places they pour out of. His mind, tragically, is used to these things.
It is not used to the sudden, tangible silence that follows, and that it what wakes him.
He feels his heart racing but his eyes open slowly, aching and caked with sleep (three witches in as many days when was the last time he’d closed his eyes for more than two hours at a time) and at first, there is only silence. Then, slowly, his ears wake up with the rest of him.
He hears Dean. A familiar, bi-nightly symphony of chattering teeth, muffled groans, bedsprings creaking as his shoulders shake with sobs that, even asleep, he’s too stubborn to release. Sam thinks, like he thinks every night he wakes to this, that tonight will be the night he wakes Dean up, tonight he’ll throw the cheap covers off his legs and go to Dean and shake him, sit him down and beg him for the thousandth time to tell him. Deep down, he knows resignedly that it won’t be tonight, that it probably won’t be any night, but that’s all right.
Because the next thing he hears is another voice, deep and calloused and yet somehow warm, murmuring softly from Dean’s end of the room.
At first, Sam doesn’t recognize it and his heart leaps into his throat pounding at a million miles a minute, and his palms sweat as he tries to slowly turn over and reach the table at the side of his bed for Ruby’s knife—
But when he turns his eyes catch the ends of a long tan coat and his whole body relaxes in a rush of relief. His eyes pan up and he sees Castiel seated at the edge of the bed, his eyes glued to Dean and his lips moving practiced and methodically, like a chant. Sam slowly leans back on his elbows, trying to raise himself up to get a better look while still attempting to remain out of sight. Castiel hadn’t seen him yet, and. Well. He was curious. It’s not every night he wakes up to find an angel comforting his broken, PTSD ass of a brother.
Or is it? The thought suddenly strikes him: has this happened before? Has Cas happened before? Sam quietly wonders, and studies the scene before him.
Castiel sits on the edge of the bed, back just far enough that his feet can rest flat on the musty green carpet. His body is turned towards the window and light from a florescent, faintly-buzzing streetlamp pours through the blinds and ripples him in stripes of dark and light. His back is rigid, his body still and wound tight, and his hands folded in his lap in a way that cannot quite be described as “rested,” because there is tension there, too, and there isn’t a doubt in Sam’s mind that those fingers could be gripping a sword in the instant it would take Sam to blink. Even as he sits on the bed half-leaned against the wall, he is, every inch, the warrior of God he claims to be; powerful, assured, and as unsympathetic as the blade in his hands.
It’s his eyes that betray him.
His face is per the usual, blank and still, and his lips move with the same practiced efficiency of an exorcism or a banishing rite. The Enochian words tumble effortlessly from him, entirely meaningless to Sam’s ears. With Castiel, he has no way of knowing if the rough monotone of his voice is laced with geniality like he would identify in a voice that rose and fell with its words. But when Sam looks at his eyes—his body turned to the window but his eyes turned to Dean, fixed somewhere at the back of his head—he sees it.
Castiel does not look like the paintings of angels that Sam saw as a child, or resemble the stories he heard listening at the door of Pastor Jim’s church on Sundays, and it isn’t the too-big trenchcoat or the backwards tie or the fact that Sam can’t see his wings. It’s in the way Cas states the unfiltered truth, how he readily appears more harsh than benevolent, how he is a being of war and not always one of compassion.
But when Sam looks at his eyes, lit up in a strand of light peeking through the blinds, that’s when he thinks guardian angel.
The tenderness in the angel’s gaze can only be otherworldly—it’s something Sam can’t put his finger on. In all the thousands of looks and glances he’s seen on the road—exchanged between friends, between lovers, between mothers and sons and fathers and daughters, between brothers and sisters and comrades and strangers—this is all of these and none of them all at once. But he supposes there isn’t a label for the look a man can give you when he pulls you from the depths of hell. Even so, he knows he recognizes some sort of affection and fear in the gaze Castiel has fixed on his brother, because if every second you spend looking at Dean Winchester you don’t spend with at least the barest tint of panic in your eyes, then you don’t truly care for him. Afraid of what, though—for Castiel, Sam isn’t sure. Afraid for Dean’s sanity, for his maybe-impossible recovery from the scars Hell left in his mind, afraid for what the angel possibly knew was ahead for him—for both of them. Maybe he was even afraid of Dean waking up and seeing him there, whispering to him in Enochian as he sobs and shakes in his sleep.
Then, Sam hears it.
Quietly, at first, “Cas,” and then growing from a whimper to a pained cry—“Cas.”
Sam isn’t sure, but he thinks he hears a break in the careful pattern of Castiel’s words.
“Cas please,” Dean moans, his eyes screwed tight as he remembers some unfathomable pain. Dean’s voice is slurred by sleep, and Sam has to focus to pick out the words—though the pain and terror in his voice alone is already enough to make his eyes sting. “Can’t…anymore. Can’t—break, don’t let me break, Cas. Can’t. Not…again, not again. Please, Cas. Pull me out, please.”
Dean continues, voice breaking, repeating again and again: pull me out, pull me out. Through it all, Castiel’s voice remains a constant presence, never faltering or raising in volume or giving any indication that he is as pained by this as his eyes show. Between each of Dean’s cries, his every plea, Castiel fills the space with murmurs of Enochian, steady as a stone. A handhold for Dean to grasp.
Gradually, Dean’s quiet whimpers fade, and his breathing evens out as the tension slowly drips from his shoulders. Castiel doesn’t move—Sam is hardly sure he’s even breathing—but he begins to see the thin, focused creases in his forehead smooth. There was pity, too, in his eyes, maybe even guilt, but that too fades with each steady rise and fall of Dean’s chest.
And finally Dean quiets, falls back into a—if not peaceful, at the least restful—sleep, but Cas continues his soothing, foreign murmurs for another minute or two before he too silences. His eyes do not stray once from Dean, or lose that spark of protectiveness and warmth.
Sam waits, ears straining for the moment he hears the last sound before the night returns to silence: the quiet rustle of Castiel’s wings, the soft swish of the air resettling, of papers in the room disturbed by the gust of the angel’s departure.
“Don’t tell him,” he hears instead, startling him half out of his mind. His eyes snap back to Castiel, but the angel’s gaze hasn’t moved from his brother. “His mind is strained enough as it is, and I believe you of all people know how much he would hate to have others witness him in this state.” He looks up then, to meet Sam’s eyes. “I think it best if he remains…unaware.”
And there’s something about the look in his eyes when he says it, something aching and tired that prompts Sam to ask:
“Cas, just how long have you been doing this?”
The only answer Sam gets is a gentle gust of wind in an empty room, and he eventually falls asleep to the sound of Dean’s snores.
“What was it again, Sa—Jesus Bobby, so you ever clean this damn place?”
Sam looks up to where Dean is waving his hand over the old tome, wheezing dramatically as dust spews from the pages. Bobby glares at him from the desk where he’s busy considering his own massive volume of Enochian rites and snaps, “Sorry that I couldn’t quite reach to dust the damn top shelf, numbnuts. The moment the neurons in my spine reconnect, first thing I’ll properly disinfect the house to suit your pussy-ass sensitivities.”
Dean rolls his eyes and barks at Sam, “Why are we looking for this chant thing again? Where’d you even hear it?”
Sam swallows and chooses his next words carefully: “Just…heard it around, wanna make sure it’s not anything dangerous.”
Dean just sulks, taking another sip of whiskey from his already half-empty second glass—it’s barely noon.
“Non ad nocere—that what you said, Sam?” Bobby asks, wheeling out from behind the desk, abandoning yet another book in favor of trying the next on the shelf.
“Something like that…there was other stuff too, though. But that phrase stuck out to me.”
“Hey—think I maybe found it,” Dean says a moment later, spinning the book around for Sam to come over and see. It’s quiet at first, but as Dean points at the page Sam swears for the first time in months he actually hears him laugh—really laugh, not hollow and empty and ironic, but like he’s found something really funny. The grin on his face is enough to stop Sam in his tracks.
“It’s a goddamn lullaby, like, a song for protection or something,” says Dean. “Think they sing it to the baby angels?”
Dean’s grin widens, and he stands up to elbow Sam playfully in the side. Sam smiles, but something inside of him clenches painfully.
“Hey, what do you think it would take to get Cas to sing it?” he jokes, and even Bobby sniggers a little at that.
He must’ve shown something in his face, because the next second Dean’s brief smile is gone, replaced with a look of confused concern. “Sam?”
“Sorry,” Sam chuckles, forcing a smile. “I was just picturing it, that’s all.”